This article was written in collaboration with Te Hiku Media.


Two rescued sea turtles have been returned to the ocean after rehabilitation at the SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium in Auckland.

The sea turtles, one a loggerhead turtle and the other a green sea turtle, were returned at the end of March by both staff members of Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium and Whangārei iwi (tribe), Ngātiwai.

The turtles were found after they had washed up on beaches in 2019 and 2020.

“They wash up on the beaches … the Department of Conservation will get notified of the turtles and will then go and collect the turtles and transport them to Auckland Zoo,” said Dan Henderson, General Manager at Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium.

From there the turtles receive a triage assessment and are sent to Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium for rehabilitation and eventually release.

Rehabilitated turtles are released off the coast of Tutukaka and are returned with karakia  (a traditional chant or blessing) by Ngātiwai kaumatua (Elders).

“One of the best parts about the release day is obviously letting the turtles go but also the conversations that we have together on the boat on the outward journey and on the way back,” said Henderson.

Henderson describes a sense of mutual guardianship between Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium staff and Ngātiwai people.

“We are guardians for these turtles while they are in our care, so I guess that is a sort of similarity right there, we feel connected to them right through to the day we release them and then beyond that.”

Both parties work together during turtle rehabilitation which ensures the blending of both mātauranga Māori (traditional Māori knowledge) and marine biology in the conservation program.

The program began through Ngātiwai being involved in a turtle return in 2019. It aims to educate people about the impact human life has on sea biology and promote sustainability.

“Our purpose is to inspire love for the oceans, so we hope that coming out and getting close … provokes thought and provokes people to find out more than what they have today,” said Henderson.

“It’s a really great relationship to have built, obviously it is a beautiful area you have here. It is a nice connection for us to be able to have with Ngātiwai and for that involvement on the day as well,” added Kelly Greenshields, Display Supervisor at Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium.

“To be able to get the community aware of what is out there and for us to join together is a great opportunity.”

By Rachael Knowles